On body dysmorphia, misogyny, body-shaming, the Silicon Valley, and being pretty: Or, why I practice yoga.

I finally got back in the yoga studio yesterday. Oddly, I did not want to go. This is very unusual for me – I am pretty dedicated to my practice and I know without qualification that no matter how I am feeling, I always feel better after I go to yoga. Still, I did not want to go.

I had not been practicing for several weeks. There are lots of reasons – there always are. For one, I got really sick in the first week of June. Like really sick. I imagine if you live in the Bay Area you got some variety of this sickness or know someone who did because it was insidious and vicious. After days of a sore throat that prevented swallowing anything, talking much at all, and sleeping soundly – all amplified by the fact that I was in the final week of instruction at school dealing with surly teenagers and oh yeah, also packing up for a major job transition – the sick morphed into some sort of monstrous hacking chest cough. “At least it was productive.”

The Pantone array of my phlegm rainbow.

And then some.

This lasted from 7 June through 17 June. I realize that this is not actually an eternity, but whatever.  In this same time I conducted final projects for around 100 students, graded said projects, deleted untold numbers of unauthorized selfies on my phone, tried to be an adult and be mad at my students for participating in the very-rapey senior streak that happens at BHS but still endorse my one student who dressed up as a giant dick as a protest statement, packed up my classroom wherein I downsized 20+ years of my “teacher life” into fewer than 10 boxes, said goodbye to some people I will really miss, was mature enough also to say goodbye to some people I will not miss at all, watched every minute of the NBA finals (okay, except for 28 minutes of Game 4, which I am certain contributed to the longevity of my illness), got my hair done and attempted to get headshots for my new job (not wildly successful), packed my bags and went to the wilds of North Idaho to visit my parents with my boyfriend.

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NBD.

While en route to Idaho I read Roxane Gay‘s new memoir, Hunger. It is an important read for a lot of reasons, but I found it especially significant as I was spiraling into my 1980s-programmed body dysmorphic mind as a consequence of the 80s (obviously) but also from being sick and a little depressed, overly tired and not being able to do the things I have convinced myself I must do in order to feel a certain way – which no matter how much I wish was not connected to how I look, is completely connected to how I (think I) look.

This is not a new problem, nor is it a particularly unique problem. One of my favorite (now former) coworkers and I have an ongoing “joke” when we get teased by our young  female students of color for having “no cakes” [a term I had to actually research via Urban Dictionary after my girls were first discussing my said lack of cakes in class while I was writing on the board] telling them that we grew up in the 80s, so no cakes is a win for us. Sometimes I have gone so far as to say – out loud – that one of my adolescent goals, in spite of Sir Mix-A-Lot, was to be a stick insect. I know this is not exactly true (in my personal chronology only) because I co-opted the expression from Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones  many years after high school, which only goes to show that my body issues are not bound by any decade. Interestingly, this year I inadvertently served as a nutrition guide for several of the young women in my class as we often found ourselves discussing how we felt hungry – or not – and how our food was influencing our energy levels in various capacities (many of them are incredible dancers… and wondered why they felt like shit after a breakfast of Hot Cheetos.) Also of note, these students are some of the most honest and authentic people I know about body reality – as well they embrace reality literally and figuratively. One of them was the one dressed as a giant dick in the streak. They get things I never even thought of at their age. They somehow escaped the neuroses that I continue to adhere to in spite of many supposedly healthier, confidence-inspiring, and therapied years later.

So, feeling shitty, literally and figuratively, and then reading Gay’s book gave me pause. In particular the articulate way she wrote about how/why women are viewed and valued in society and how maintenance of said ‘value’ is inherently dangerous spoke to me. I thought about how almost always the best compliment a person can think to give a woman is that she “looks like she has lost weight!” or that she “looks so tiny!” I thought about all those coveted compliments, and their intentional double entendre. They punctuate the times in my life I was certain I looked best. When I returned from living in the ashram in India and had stopped having my period because I had lost so much weight, I felt so proud of how everyone loved how I looked (except for A – she said I looked sick. She was probably right.) Still, I think about how my clothes fit then and I get pissed off with myself now.

At this point I decided to stop at Yoke’s north of Sandpoint to buy a bunch of fashion magazines and then go back to the parentals house and drink a ton of wine. Seems legit. I did not go to yoga. And I continued my self-care by rewarding every hike with cold beer. I was on vacation after all. And I told my boyfriend, who truly and sincerely does not have a single issue with how I look (not to be confused with having not a single issue with me, btw) that if he posted any photos of me I had better look thin. Repeatedly.

Typing that really highlights how completely annoying that must have been.

On my return to the city, I knew I would be going back to yoga. But for the first time that I can really remember, I felt uncomfortable about it – like not in shape enough to be allowed to take care of myself or something. I have heard about this phenomenon – even seen it in action, remember this peach? I know rationally it is totally fucking stupid. But there it was taking up space in my brain. And, just to be clear, I have a totally healthy build, there is nothing wrong with me. I am 5’10” and weigh between 150 and 155 pounds (I can push it to 160 easily and have been down to 140 and some change in my adult life – see the India reference above) but I really am just, you know, fine.

Plus my yoga studio is downstairs from my house, so seriously, not to cop a phrase, but just do it already.

Before I went downstairs for yoga, I caught up on some breaking news out of the Silicon Valley. For those of you who do not follow this kind of stuff, the gist of it is that it seems like finally some of the rapey, bro culture in the tech/venture capital world is getting called out with some actual consequence. This is due on large part to the investigative work of people like Sarah Lacy at Pando.com and it would be worth reading her stories about Uber (she warned us all about them years ago) and Binary Capital (the story of whose behavior inspired this worthy purchase.) I read the latest article (Binary related) and left a comment on the post expressing my surprise that people seemed to be taking umbrage with the photos in the story and not the actually rapey/gropey/assault covered in the story.

Clearly it was time to return to yoga.

As soon as I sat on my mat, I felt better. I always do and I know this. It felt safe, and positive, and welcoming. LIKE.IT.ALWAYS.DOES. I was so glad to be back in class.

When I got home I saw that someone had responded to my comment and tried to (re)explain her counterargument to me – a position I had totally understood, just disagreed with. She kept coming at me doing that thing people do who believe that if they say something over and over and over again they will get people to agree with them. This is not an effective approach with me. When she would not stop I went to her Facebook page to see who she was. She describes herself thusly: Wellness Professional. Practice Financing. Personal Health. Relationships . I am not even sure I understand what that means as a single declarative sentence. She also has an unbelievable number of public photos (odd considering this was her beef about the original post in question) of which I could have poached any. Here is one that gives you an idea.

Sally Albright: What’s she look like?
Marie: Thin. Pretty. Big tits. Your basic nightmare.

As soon as I saw her, I had an immediate reaction that maybe I should rethink my behavior in the comments because of how she looked. I am completely serious. It was this weird thing like, no matter that she could not spell (true statement) or that she was being totally patriarchally-bound (also true) and generally snotty (💯 my opinion) she suddenly mattered more, or was someone I would want to be allied with because she was hot (this seems rather objective – although this too can be misleading).

Acknowledging this reaction, I was so pissed at myself for wasting all the good intentions of a yoga class (which, for what it’s worth, was amazing, re-centering, welcoming, challenging, and generally perfect while I was there) to come up against this. I closed Facebook and turned on Law & Order SVU (as an aside with added context in this post, when I saw Roxane Gay speak last spring she talked about how she watches this show incessantly so I have accepted that this addiction of mine is okay.) Sitting there watching an episode I have probably seen ten times, the power of social media compelled me and I found myself (again) scrolling through my feed where I came across two articles (shout out to Colette for both posts). One I will only screenshot because it deserves no hits, and one I will link because it should be widely read.

The first article is by a random white guy (not a doctor) telling people they are psycho if they do not have kids. He claims to have three. I feel confident he did not birth one of them. The second is about the privilege of prettiness by Janet Mock who should need no introduction, but if she does you can go here.

These two articles present diametrically opposed ideological bookends to my earlier train(s) of thought. To be fair, random-not-a-doctor-dude was not only calling out women, (but really, who has the babies after all and what valuation is placed on those women who do/not) and let’s not forget how women’s bodies are dissected in terms of how they change (or should change) around pregnancy and childbirth (this was also “coincidentally” covered extensively in the fashion magazines I purchased to enhance my dysmorphic slide while in the wilds of Idaho. )

Janet Mock talks eloquently and effectively about the privileges that looks bequeath upon those who manage to meet the societal mark of having looks. Her take is especially valuable and addresses intersectionality with great clarity.

I sat and reread Ms. Mock’s article. I thought about Ms. Gay’s book. I revisited Ms. Lacy’s story of the women founders in Silicon Valley being groped and demeaned all the while maintaining necessary (literally prescribed, it turns out) appearances in order to get entry to the club (though not necessarily a seat at the table).  While it is not directly tied to the chitta vritti I’m currently battling, it all explains perfectly why we – I – would be so caught up in appearances, why I might freak out if I feel “fat” because I missed a yoga class, why I might rethink my “place” in taking a stand against a pretty girl (would I have felt different if she had not been traditionally attractive?)

Our appearance is often the primary currency with which we – women – are able to trade: it is a core element of my societal value.

While I was in Idaho I was talking a with a friend – a sister, really, because I have known her since she was in utero – who is now 28 (I think that puts her in a different generation than me). We were talking about how we have capitalized on people’s prejudices at various times (specifically we were speaking of fake-woke-feminists vs. blatant sexists) and it got us talking about bodies and image. She said, “Yeah, you know? I have decided that if my body works and does the things I want it to do, then I look just fine.”  I hope she really, really means this. I don’t know if I am there yet, but as they say: #goals.

I do not look the way I think I look. I know this when I see photos and I am surprised positively or negatively by the image looking back at me. This is my issue. But my concern about my value to this society – my actual self-worth – is not some internal psychosis. It is real, and it has been put on me, though it has become my cross to bear.

And this is why I went to yoga again today.

And why I will go tomorrow.

Is that truly getting at the heart of this matter?

You be the judge.

 

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San Francisco Cyclists: The Mission (mostly) Edition

In a class discussion last Wednesday about cultures of honor (we are reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers) my students asked me if there was anything or anyone that would engender the kind of emotion (rage) that would be required to act out in the way the subjects in the Harlan, Kentucky chapter behaved. Was there something someone could say or do to me that would trigger me. I had to think about this for a while, as I generally avoid that kind of conflict because it makes me uncomfortable, but also because as a woman it is simply too risky to actually address those who act inappropriately towards you in America anymore.

I thought about it for a minute and imagined who could make me feel so angry I wanted to actually do something to them that might be permanently damaging. My former step-mother came to mind because she is a truly Bad Person, but I am trying to let that go, so, nah. Then it hit me: CYCLISTS. My friend Justin has a saying: ‘When I am walking I hate cars; when I am driving I hate pedestrians. But I always hate cyclists’ and as a non driver a third of the sentiment is not relevant to me, but the latter thought: YES.

To be fair, I never really had an opinion on cyclists until I lived in San Francisco. For most of my life I have had a bike, and I have ridden bikes in more cities and countries than I can count. It never really seemed like a “Thing” to me. It was just an activity, or a conduit to one, I suppose.

But since I have been in San Francisco it has come to my attention that the cyclists in this city are the worst examples of people. Now, I am not saying all cyclists are the worst people, but I am definitely saying that all the worst people I have met in San Francisco have been cyclists.

The cyclists in San Francisco act as if they are the most maligned and put upon population that ever lived (puh-leeze), and there are constant outcries about how they are mistreated by cars and public transportation and, well, any one who gets in their way. Which is interesting because they are about the ONLY people you will see yelling at, and accosting, pedestrians, busses, and motor vehicle drivers in this town.

In no particular order here are things I have seen:

  • Speeding down crowded sidewalks (and being annoyed that people are on them)
  • Chasing down and banging on cars
  • I cannot count the broken traffic laws, but mostly it is running lights and I am fairly certain I have yet to see a cyclist stop at a stop sign
  • Shoving people out of the way on Bart (trains and escalators and platforms)
  • Speeding aggressively close to a pedestrian about to step off a sidewalk and yelling “THAT IS JAYWALKING!”
  • People crossing through the bike lanes on foot (I do this in the early mornings on Valencia Street when there is little to no vehicular traffic and limited bike traffic) and a singular rider, rather than negotiating the space, speeds up to ensure proximity and admonishes: “THAT IS NOT A GOOD PLACE TO BE”
  • Cyclists knock over kids and elderly people

My favorite is “Bike to Work Day” which brings out hundreds of the most entitled riders you have ever seen. Those of us who keep our eco-footprints small by always using public transportation are not super impressed with your one day of awareness, by the way. Ironically, a majority of these hyper-aggressive individuals not only ignore traffic laws and signs, but they are riding fixed gear bikes, often with no brakes or single brakes, and frequently they are helmet free.

Oh, and in every example I have listed above, the cyclist was a white male.

Just saying.

The most famous event since I have been back in the city was the guy who plowed through a cross walk and killed a man. In spite of the fact that the guy had no remorse, and blogged about the whole things as he was riding for “time” he only received probation and community service. Gross. [Also, white male.]

Now, I realize that the fact that I can list and identify my issues with San Francisco cyclists definitely suggests that the majority of cyclists cannot be this loathsome, and that these assholes must be outliers. But I am not sure that could or should quell my distaste.

In a very interesting turn of events, on the very same Wednesday that I had been having the aforementioned conversation with my students, I had a very unpleasant experience with just the type of cyclist I am speaking of.

I was coming home at what would basically be considered rush hour and arrived at my Bart station at around 6:00 pm. My station is one of the most crowded, and according to Bart information has the greatest number of people walking to and from the station. As we filed out of the train on to the escalator from the platform a white male cyclist, somewhere in his twenties, approximately 6’1″ maybe 180 lbs, in standard tech-bro normcore clothes (jeans that allowed his Oxford boxers to show and a generic shirt and zip up jacket) with sandy hair and glasses, shoved his bike on to the escalator.

For what it is worth, bikes are not allowed on escalators in Bart stations.

He shoved a few people for the simple fact that the escalator was totally full and held his bike upright resting on the rear wheel so that the front wheel was bumping the woman in front of him. I looked at him as I made my way up the escalator on the left and had a thought of how fun it would be to drop some knowledge on him about how there are no bikes allowed on the escalator.

I did not say anything to him because: 1) It had been a long day and really what point would there be; 2) as a woman I do not have the freedom to say what I want to men because there is ALWAYS the very real reality that it could be dangerous to me.

I made my way through the turnstile and headed up the stairs to exit the station. As I reached the top of the stairs I became aware of the fact that this cyclist had sprinted up the other stairs (so clearly he did not NEED to be using an escalator…) and as I stepped off the stairs, he physically blocked me with his bike and got in my face yelling, “YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH HOW I HAVE MY BIKE ON THE ESCALATOR?!” I looked at him in total shock and took my ear buds out.

“Are you talking to me?”

“YEAH, BITCH I AM. YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH HOW I TAKE MY BIKE ON THE ESCALATOR? YOU WANT TO SAY SOMETHING TO ME? BITCH?”

“Uhh…”

“YOU GOT SOMETHING TO SAY?!” (At this point, he is still physically obstructing me while I am trying to walk, and takes one hand off his bike raising it as it to… well, who knows.)

“Are you serious? FUCK OFF.”

“YEAH WHATEVER. BITCH.” Now he swings his leg over the bike and begins to pedal away – through a very dense crowd – and yells back, “I WOULDN’T HAVE FUCKED YOU TEN YEARS AGO!”

Wow. He went there?

And he rode off up the sidewalk towards Bartlett regardless of the steady stream of foot traffic in both directions from the station. Then he crossed 24th on the diagonal, from the SE corner of Bartlett and 24th to the NW corner.

Now this encounter brings up myriad issues, not all related to cyclists, but likely all related to white male privilege, and in my neighborhood, the two more often than not overlap. And then of course there are the obvious facts that I am completely within my rights to look at people around me and not only for general safety and awareness, and his waning insult suggests his problem might have had little to do with any look I gave him, but much more to do with some larger issues he has, dare I say, with women. 

Here is the (hardly inclusive) list of things it brought to my mind:

  • How is it possible that no other person stopped to see about this potentially problematic situation?
  • Who the fuck was this kid?
  • Would this have happened had I not been a woman, walking alone (albeit in a crowd)?
  • Would this have happened had the cyclist not been a white male? (I tried to replay the situation where the rider is black or latino or Asian or female and the resulting image is laughably fictitious)
  • Who the fuck is this kid?
  • How is it that the most offensive and entitled cyclists are the ones who do not follow the rules?
  • Why did I not think to retort that his aggressive ass was not supposed to be on the escalator in the first place?
  • Did he think I said, “Fuck YOU” prompting his retort about how he would not have fucked me ten years ago? Or is this just the go-to kind of insult for a young man to level at a middle-aged woman?
  • Did he think I would have actually ever wanted to fuck him? (I know this is not the issue, but it makes me think about how homophobic straight guys always think gay men will want to get with them – and I had to remember that a great number of young men in San Francisco must somehow by into the mythology that San Francisco women are desperate for them.)
  • Ultimately, my largest question (aside from what I should do about the situation) was: WHAT IN THE HELL WAS THIS KID’S DAMAGE?

This is the kind of shit that ONLY women have to put up with. And I know it is not only from cyclists, but anyone reading this can be absolutely sure that this little prince would not have done this to a man, or a woman who was with a man. Further, not that I should ever need to say this, but let me add that I was dressed completely normally, coming home from work carrying a load of stuff – there was nothing setting me apart from any other person returning from work that day, and certainly nothing sexualizing about my appearance.

The situation agitated me enough that I spoke to the Bart station attendants the next day, who told me that they were terribly disappointed I had not come back in to report the man the night before, and that they did have him on video in the station as a matter of policy if I wanted to file a police report. I considered it for sure. At this point I have not done anything else about it, but I certainly have considered how the experience speaks to so many of the social issues we are facing in our society everyday including white male privilege, sexism, misogyny, entitlement, dangerous self-interest, ageism, to name but a few.

It is a shame that this guy was on a bike because all it does, even in my rational mind that knows it is unfair, is make me more unforgiving of the bicycle culture in San Francisco.

At the end of the day, if I had to name a group of people who bring our any sort of Hatfield-McCoy energy in me, it remains SF cyclists. How unfair it is that I am unable to express this because of cultural norms that endanger me for responding to this sort of thing in kind.

Earlier in the day when I had arrived at my answer for my students, their response (many of them skaters and riders) was a chorus of agreement, and nearly every one of them had a story about an egregious act perpetrated by an urban cyclist. As Malcolm Gladwell would say, one example is just that, but 30 is a pattern.

Watch yourself out there people.

Chick-flick, really? How about just “movie”?

There’s a lot of talk these days about the evil -isms. I don’t mean just the traditional fascism, or the always indendiary terrorism, or even the very topical homophob- well, there is no –ism for that one, but racism is also back on the table (not that it ever disappeared), much ado about the Supreme Court and such. So, why the hell aren’t people raising a total shitstorm over the invisible –ism? If you are unsure which one I am talking about hat would be SEXISM. (Not that I condone -isms…)

Just one look at how people reacted to Texas state Senator Wendy Davis should have shocked people in to rage. [Check the response to #standwithwendy – which was #sitdownwendy – pretty telling.]

https://twitter.com/aworkinglibrary/status/350012277442883584

Though, the other day the GOP launched a new campaign, Women are Right, get it? They are right and on the right! Clever! #goodluckwiththat

But even that just offered a glimpse into what remains a huge problem in our society punctuated with discrepancies in opportunities and wildly divergent average wages, but sustained by cultural norms across the board. And not that this situation is all that great anywhere, but in America, especially California, we are supposed to be so progressive. Or something.

BGPrHSkCIAA-5nN

But what got me back up in your faces about this was a movie I just saw. For real.

You might remember a couple of weeks ago I watched Desperately Seeking Susan for the first time in years. It was so fun I even wrote about it. And there was an article I cited talking about how there are not longer movies driven by females made for the mainstream commercial audience. And while I suspect this has more to do with the mainstream audience than anything else… it still says a lot. There are hardly any movies that are driven by cool female leads (do not  get me going on whatsherface from Twiglight… she is categorically uninteresting.) And any movie that is female driven is automatically labeled a chick flick. Why aren’t all the ridionculous summer “blockbusters” genderfied thusly? Yeah, okay, there were a few movies that got labeled Bromances, (The Hangover 1-3I guess.) But the minute there is an attempt to drive a movie with female lead, or a female cast (gasp), “blockbuster” is out of reach. Take a look at the predicted blockbusters in this slide show. It could be that the ladies in Hollywood don’t want to do drivel like White House Down (side note: can you imagine the uproar if multiple movies were made about destroying the White House when Bush/Cheney were sitting around in there? It would have been treasonous) or Fast and Furious 28, but I think it says a lot more about the market for movies, which in turn, of course says much about our cultural take on women. These days even a lot of the “chick flicks” are guy driven… Magic Mike or Rock of Ages anyone? If women are the ones spending money on these movies (even though they earn less) it seems like making reasonable female driven films might be worthwhile… but I don’t write for Hollywood, so more uptight, neurotic, jealous, psycho, desperate housewives, or wannabe housewives are in my future I suppose…

In order to avoid the “chick flick” label female heavy movies now seem to require a lot of vomit or shit (literally); see Bridesmaids, or The Bachelorette – wow, what an amazing variety of subject matter… but even He’s Just Not That Into You – a movie that hit fairly close to home, but still maintained the age-old story line of girl-desperate-for-man. [Not to mention the obvious fact that if you find the fact that girls are crass, offensive, or simply gross at times, you just have not hung around many girls in your life. Or at least not the ones I know. It is just not that shocking.]

With all this is mind, I selected another “chick flick” to watch. The Cowboy was a good sport about it, but was not optimistic. The selection this time? Pitch Perfect. The plot revolves around collegiate a capella, which I realize could sound overly niche, but having had a small glimpse into the cult-like fanaticism surrounding collegiate a capella, and of course the success of Glee, they knew the market was clearly there.

So saying all that, I will just cut to the chase: the movie is hilarious (and there is the requisite barf scene [x2] to make it less “chick-y” and more “bro-y” or something) and the actors in it can really sing apparently. Bear in mind, I like movies lots of people don’t (and that is only one of a million reasons I will never review films for anyone who cares, or pays me) but I do think that my opinion counts for something; I could at least point you in the direction of a good time. And also, recall I am not a big fan of the whole “body positive” movement, but I am most definitely on Team Rebel Wilson.

This movie has a (clearly purposefully) diverse group of girls in it, but they are all pretty funny and they get the job done – most especially Ms. Wilson who plays Fat Amy (‘You call yourself Fat Amy?’ ‘Yeah, so twig bitches like you don’t do it behind my back.’)

“I can sing, but I’m also good at modern dance, olden dance, and mermaid dancing which is a little different. You usually start on the ground. It’s a lot of floor work.”

I love her attitude and she is seriously hilarious (as she was in the other movies I saw her in.) Case in point, if you check the quotes on IMDB.com, they are pretty much all her. Another fun part of the movie are the roles of the aca-announcers Gail, played by Elizabeth Banks who also produced the film, and her ridiculous partner John.

The movie is fast and funny and has some good music in it, [as well as some that is fairly suspect, but I far prefer this version of Miley Cyrus and Jessie J.] And **spoiler alert** the girls win this one, which is really fun. It does end with the (apparently) requisite run of the girl back to the boy, but I am willing to over look that for this scene.

So, take a break and watch this movie if you have a minute this summer, unless you would rather write a movie that fills ths sad cultural void. We need more movies like this that don’t take themselves so seriously, and in attempting levity don’t have to be completely lame. Or all about killing yourself for some guy.

Gail: I think we have just seen some a cappella history being made, John.
John: And from an all-female group, Gail. I could never have called this one.
Gail: Never. Well, you are a misogynist at heart, so there’s no way you would have bet on these girls to win.
John: Absolutely.

Crushed it.